The world’s first color-changing hair dye

Wired has a look at this color-changing hair dye, which makes for some spectacular time lapse videos:

Lauren Bowker’s firm The Unseen uses chemistry alongside design to create so-called “reactive fashion.” The brand’s patented colour-change technology focuses on material science and data to create bespoke inks, compounds and coatings that result in clothes that change colour with different temperatures and humidity. Within fashion circles, Bowker is known as ‘The Alchemist’.

Her latest creation, FIRE draws upon the powers of transformation that have epitomised her work. A specially formulated hair dye, FIRE is a chemical concoction that can reveal an array of colours previously unseen.

FIRE is designed to be responsive to temperature fluctuations, and is available in multiple colour ranges from bright red to subtle pastels. The data used to create the dye stems from the process of thermoregulation in the human skin and the colour change chemical reaction occurs in response to a certain stimuli – in this case, changes in the environment. When the temperature drops or rises, the carbon-based molecules at the core of the FIRE dye undergo a reversible reaction.

How ‘Black Mirror’ mirrors reality

Miranda Katz over at Backchannel has a comparison of Black Mirror episodes and their theoretically real-life counterparts:

What makes Black Mirror so chilling isn’t just its technologies, but their uncanny interplay with human behavior. The show can feel gratuitously pessimistic, yet it’s rooted in reality: nearly every scenario parallels something in our current world. In particular, an early episode disturbingly foreshadows the rise of Donald Trump.

It’s impossible to write off Black Mirror as fiction. So we’ve decided to nail down the parallels between the nightmares on screen and our world today. And so we present: the real-life equivalents of Black Mirror’s dystopias, loosely ordered by how closely each episode reflects our current reality.

The 5 personality traits that lead to well-being

Scott Barry Kaufman at Scientific American has findings about personality traits that are more likely to predict personal well-being. They are:

  1. Enthusiasm
  2. Low Withdrawl (i.e. from social situations)
  3. Industriousness
  4. Compassion
  5. Intellectual Curiosity

Assertiveness and Creative Openness were also found to be key predictors. Meanwhile, three traits that don’t predict well-being?

  1. Politeness
  2. Orderliness
  3. Volatility

Kaufman summarizes:

If anything, I think these findings are optimistic (maybe it’s because of my high levels of enthusiasm). For one, it highlights that there are multiple routes to well-being. But less well recognized, it also highlights that there are multiple personality profiles that can get you there. The standard story is that well-being is all about extraversion and emotional stability. But these findings show the importance of including a broader array of personality traits, and leaving open possibilities for individual changes in personality as well as cultural interventions that can help all people increase their happiness by influencing their patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Read the whole piece here.

The Physics of Crowds

Great piece by Emily Badger about the physics of crowds and why fatal stampedes happen, even in crowds comprised of peaceful, reasonable people:

The small movements of so many people aggregate into a powerful force – one that security officials are often helpless to halt – that has the capacity to knock over bodies, shove them together and, ultimately, asphyxiate them. This sounds impossible, but 21 people died at Love Parade inside a crowd that had essentially been standing still. There was no real crowd rush or dramatic “stampede.” And this is the heart of the mystery to non-scientists as to how such a thing could happen.

More Complicated Than Calories

From The Atlantic comes this report from Kristin Wartman that maybe what’s making us fat isn’t just the calories we eat: it’s the fact that we’re surrounded by pollutants and chemicals that are collectively and profoundly changing our metabolism:

Lustig echoes vom Saal’s belief that a wide range of substances in our food supply and our environment are likely leading to obesity and metabolic disease based on hosts of studies of various substances. These include soy-based infant formula, phthalates (used in many plastics), PCBs (found in coolant and electrical equipment), DDE (a type of pesticide), fungicides, and atrazine (a common pesticide).

If the obesogen theory comes to be accepted and casts doubt on the energy balance model, the food industry will be in trouble. It would be harder to keep promoting diet and “health” foods that may be low in calories but that also contain an array of substances that may actually prove to contribute to weight gain.

Did Jonah Really Get Swallowed by a Whale?

In this unexpectedly lyrical piece, Ben Shattuck tries to figure out if anyone in human history has ever been swallowed by a whale, then emerged days later in one piece to tell about it.

I’d like to believe in swallowings, but it’s tough. There is no air in the stomach, for one. There are acids. And if we are talking about sperm whales, which we are most of the time, there is the deadly passage through the 30-foot jaws lined with 8-inch teeth.

Still, you’d like to think it’s possible. You want to believe in an animal that can fit you inside them — that you might be consumed not piece-by-piece, mouthful-by-mouthful as sharks and bears would eat you, but wholly; to be encased as your full self, womb-like.

Dealing with Cancer

One of my favorite writers, Mary Elizabeth Williams, has been documenting her life with Stage 4 Melanoma in a series of extraordinary blog posts at Salon. Williams has written about how to talk to someone with cancer, and how to talk about cancer if you have it.

The post that moved me the most was her initial piece about what she’s doing to combat cancer. Williams is trying an experimental treatment and doing everything in her power to help others learn about her condition, in the hopes of contributing something to the science surrounding melanoma. May her strength continue to give others strength, and help them to face an uncertain day:

I am an experiment. And as the experiment continues, I intend to keep sharing it with you, giving you my take on what it’s like to both grapple with a potentially fatal illness, and to stand on the front lines of a treatment that just might revolutionize cancer care. Right now, I have a light, speckled rash all over my body, a condition I hope a new steroid cream will correct. My gums sometimes bleed. I have a slick, oily taste in my mouth, one that rendered the birthday cake my family made for me recently all but inedible. Yet when my daughters grandly marched it out from the kitchen, I smiled gamely and posed for pictures. Then I made a wish. Not just for me, but for all of us living here in Stage 4, and for all those yet to someday get that devastating, life-changing phone call. Let all this be worth it, I thought. Let it work. And I blew out the candles.

Does Teaching Make Humans Unique?

Discover magazine explores whether or not the ability to teach makes humans a unique species:

If you’re a college student reading this during a lecture because your professor is boring you out of your mind, you may not consider teaching a very big deal. But when you consider everything that goes into one person teaching another, it’s a remarkable behavior. Consider what it takes for you to teach a child how to tie her laces, or write her name in cursive, or skip a stone. She has to watch you do the action and store a representation of that action in her brain. She also needs to listen to you, to understand why a twist of the fingers or the flick of a wrist is important to the procedure. You, the teacher, have to watch her try it, recognize when she gets it wrong, and explain how to do it right. Just as importantly, you have to help the child understand why learning a particular action matters–so that she won’t cut her foot, so that she could throw a stone across the pond, and so on.

The Economics of the McRib

Fascinating analysis by Willy Staley:

Fast food involves both hideously violent economies of scale and sad, sad end users who volunteer to be taken advantage of. What makes the McRib different from this everyday horror is that a) McDonald’s is huge to the point that it’s more useful to think of it as a company trading in commodities than it is to think of it as a chain of restaurants b) it is made of pork, which makes it a unique product in the QSR world and c) it is only available sometimes, but refuses to go away entirely.

The Quest for the Perfect Run

The NYTimes, on the search for an injury-free way of running:

We were once the greatest endurance runners on earth. We didn’t have fangs, claws, strength or speed, but the springiness of our legs and our unrivaled ability to cool our bodies by sweating rather than panting enabled humans to chase prey until it dropped from heat exhaustion. Some speculate that collaboration on such hunts led to language, then shared technology. Running arguably made us the masters of the world.

So how did one of our greatest strengths become such a liability? “The data suggests up to 79 percent of all runners are injured every year,” says Stephen Messier, the director of the J. B. Snow Biomechanics Laboratory at Wake Forest University. “What’s more, those figures have been consistent since the 1970s.” Messier is currently 11 months into a study for the U.S. Army and estimates that 40 percent of his 200 subjects will be hurt within a year. “It’s become a serious public health crisis.”

Amazon’s Kindle Weighs More When It’s Loaded with Books

Does the Kindle weigh more when it’s loaded with books? A fascinating answer from the NYTimes:

“In principle, the answer is yes,” said John D. Kubiatowicz, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley.

“However,” he said, “the amount is very small, on the order of an atogram,” or 10–18 grams. “This amount is effectively unmeasurable,” he went on, since even the most sensitive scales have a resolution of only 10–9 grams. Further, it is only about one hundred-millionth as much as the estimated fluctuation from charging and discharging the device’s battery. A Kindle, for example, uses flash memory, composed of special transistors, one per stored bit, which use trapped electrons to distinguish between a digital 1 and a 0.

Sit, Don’t Stand

It used to be that standing desks were thought of as the solution to that age old problem of not allowing our sedentary lifestyles to kill us slowly. But now, new research from Cornell reveals that the best solution is somewhere in between (via Gruber):

Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes. Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

Does Michelle Bachmann Have Blood on Her Hands?

A saddening story from the NYTimes about the projected damage that Bachmann’s vaccine statements may cause:

[T]he harm to public health may have already been done. When politicians or celebrities raise alarms about vaccines, even false alarms, vaccination rates drop.

“These things always set you back about three years, which is exactly what we can’t afford,” said Dr. Rodney E. Willoughby, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a member of the committee on infectious diseases of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Deterioration of the Institution of Marriage

Sorry the updates have been sparse all week. I’ve spent the past five days at an intense photography seminar with the amazing Jerry Ghionis. I have a TON to say about this that will definitely go into a blog post about the entire experience early next week. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share this interesting opinion piece I came upon by eHarmony founder Neil Clark Warren (via Kevin):

[I]nspiring marriages don’t happen by accident. They require highly informed and carefully reasoned choices. Commitment and hard work are factors too. But after decades of working with a few thousand well-intended and hardworking married people, I’ve become convinced that 75 percent of what culminates in a disappointing marriage — or a great marriage — has far less to do with hard work and far more to do with partner selection based on “broad-based compatibility.” It became clear to me that signs which were predictive of the huge differences between eventually disappointing and ultimately great marriages were obvious during the premarital phase of relationships.

Browbeating Your Partner Will Not Make Them Love You

Tracy Clark-Flory, on a new scientific study that may or may not change how you treat your significant other in common social situations:

It turns out that trying to punish a significant other when his or her eyes wander might actually backfire and encourage infidelity, according to a study published in this month’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers subjected a bunch of undergrad guinea pigs to a computer game involving photos of strangers, followed by a questionnaire. When their attention to photos of attractive members of the opposite sex was “subtly limited” in the game, it “reduced relationship satisfaction and commitment and increased positive attitudes toward infidelity.” The study explains, “Being told simply not to look is probably not an effective strategy for boosting satisfaction and commitment or reducing interest in alternatives” — and it’s for the same reason that telling a kid to keep his hands off the cookie jar doesn’t reduce his interest in sweets.

100,000 Years

From Curt Stager (via Jason) comes a sobering report on humanity’s lasting impact on planet Earth:

If we switch to carbon-free fuels quickly, our greenhouse gas emissions will keep the world slightly warmer than today for as long as 100,000 years. As unsettling as that may be, the alternative is even more severe. If we burn all remaining fossil fuels, including our huge coal reserves, the warming will be five to ten times more extreme and last five to ten times longer.

In short, we’ve become a shockingly powerful force of nature. I liken this revelation to the first NASA photos of Earth, from which we learned that we ride a delicate blue bubble through deep space. This equally transformative view of our place in deep time shows that we are also incredibly important. We’re now so numerous and our technology so powerful that the effects of our collective actions in coming decades will echo on down through the ages.